HBO Films’ latest production “Fahrenheit 451” starring Michael B Jordan and Michael Shannon os about to make its debut on the world stage, screening on May 20 on HBO at 7am, with a same day primetime encore at 8pm. The film will also be streaming on HBO GO via AIS Play and AIS Playbox.
Directed by Ramin Bahrani from a screenplay by Ramin Bahrani & Amir Naderi, the drama is based on Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel of the same name, depicting an alternate tomorrow in which media are an opiate, facts and history are rewritten, and “firemen” burn books.
Jordan portrays Montag, a young fireman who begins to question his beliefs and turns against his friend and mentor, Captain Beatty, played by Shannon. Sofia Boutella stars as Clarisse, an informant who becomes newly politicised through her interactions with Montag.
“I have always loved Ray Bradbury’s prophetic novel,” says Bahrani. “The concept is so provocative. Three years ago, I started to think about it again, because the world was frighteningly catching up to what he had envisioned. Bradbury said that we demanded, we elected, for the world to become this way. That’s different than having a totalitarian government take over. I found that to be true, because we have willingly given up our knowledge, identity, books, history, dreams, culture – everything – to tech companies, big business and politicians.”
The film follows Montag, the most popular fireman in his district, with a mandate to achieve happiness and social harmony by burning books, physical or electronic, deleting and altering history, art, photos and facts, and replacing words with simplistic emojis. “Natives”, or citizens, mainly stay home, happily interacting with screens and getting anything they need from “Yuxie,” an advanced AI personal assistant that listens to and watches them at all times. “Eels” fight to save books, knowledge and culture. When firemen catch them, they punish Eels in public burnings, which are broadcast to the city on giant building-screens; the Eels’ digital identities and histories are wiped clean and they are banished to Talay City, a poor slum with very little technology.
Captain Beatty (Michael Shannon) is Montag’s mentor and friend, and the head of the regional fireman brigade. He is grooming Montag to take his place, but Beatty also harbours a secret: a desire for knowledge and books, exactly what he trains Montag to burn. Beatty manages to ride a fine line of contradiction to survive within the Ministry. He finds himself losing control of Montag, his prized student, who is haunted by dreams and increasingly questioning his beliefs. Interacting with Clarisse (Sofia Boutella), an Eel-turned-informant, Montag is drawn to forbidden knowledge. The turning point comes when an old woman burns herself alive, in front of Montag, for her books. Now, Montag must know why.
His first step: steal a book. Next: find Clarisse to explain it to him.
Through Clarisse, Montag connects with rebel Eels who are preserving books by memorising one author’s work and “becoming” that novel. They have developed OMNIS, a way to store all of humanity’s art, history and literature in a microscopic strand of DNA – an advanced form of a technology that exists today. The Eels need Montag to use his status as a fireman to protect OMNIS.
Conflicted and suspicious Beatty realizes that Montag has aligned himself with Clarisse, betraying him and the Ministry. Beatty confronts Montag, resulting in a series of fiery standoffs in which Beatty tries to bring his apprentice and only friend back into the fold. But Montag can’t be saved. He has a goal: save the OMNIS. Mentor and apprentice will have to face the inevitable tragedy that neither friend wants: One of them will have to be destroyed.
“This is a good time for “Fahrenheit 451” to come out, because it seems like we are drifting away from pure information as a society. Everything now is more oriented to opinion and propaganda, and the technology that’s available is allowing us to create a dangerous non-reality,” Shannon says.
“For my character Beatty, it’s not even important whether something is a lie or the truth. That’s an antiquated notion, and that’s something we’re seeing in our culture today. But my own personal mantra is ‘pay attention’ – we think we’re getting all the information and facts, but often you can’t rely on the validity of what you’re reading or seeing these days.”
Says Michael B. Jordan of his character, “He’s the golden boy, you know? And with that type of pressure on him, there’s also a pressure to continue down that path – not to go back, not to turn left, not to make any mistakes. I think the message of the film and the book is very important today, when our freedom of choice and freedom of speech – our rights as human beings – are being tested. Don’t always do what you’re told. Do what you feel is right. That’s something my character Montag learns as he starts to question what the Ministry taught him and slowly but surely begins to think for himself. Know that you have freedom of choice. Don’t rely on someone else to tell you what is true or what your reality is.”